Summer

I have a friend. She is like my sister. Our grandfather’s were very good friends too. They were born in the beginning of the 1900’s in wild Bosnia, under Austro-Hungarian rulers and both their fathers owned large tracts of land. They were in business with the mills. Often, they worked together in the wild forests. They had different backgrounds but respected each other and by extension, each other’s culture. Their friendship endured the two Great Wars and more. Hadji made his pilgrimage to Mecca, hence his name, and my grandfather, who was forced to leave Bosnia during the big war, ended up with his family, in Germany.

The summer of 1990 I went on my first visit to Bosnia with my grandparents. They came down every two years to take the baths, at the hot springs somewhere in Croatia and then went to their ancestral home in Central Bosnia. On this trip, I met Hadji, my grandfather’s childhood friend, about whom I had often heard stories throughout the years.  I also met his granddaughter, Suada and as it was, we got on right away. She was the youngest of five sisters and had a fashionable 90’s hairstyle though like her older sisters, wore the traditional dimije of the countryside.

She and her sisters were shy with the exception of  the oldest one, who had the most experience.  Smoking cigarettes like they were going out of style, she laughed and told jokes and pressed me on every subject; married or not, kids, school – the whole litany.  The sisters had clear, happy eyes the color of sky light.  I could see they treated my grandparents like royalty throughout our visit.  Given the history the two old men shared and the sacredness of Bosnian hospitality this was natural. Everything became even more special because it was also the first day of Bajram.

My grandparents and I left for Germany the next day and Suada and I promised to keep up our friendship. Unfortunately, not soon after that summer, in the spring of ’92,  the dark period came to Bosnia and we lost all communication. There was terrible fighting, all around my family’s town too. We had no news for almost a year.

The rest are stories everyone knows.  Soon it will be the anniversary of the concentrated horror that happened all over Bosnia; Omarska, Srebrenica, too many others.

No one knew anything about the old man or the grand daughters. Relatives living in Bosnia said things were different ‘than before’. It was fierce for those who lived through the war. Regardless of which ‘side’, the lines were drawn. I lived in America, it seemed far away.

After Dayton, I asked about visiting our friends.

I went on a trip to see my grandparents in Munich and slipped into Bosnia via Zagreb.  It was the longest and saddest bus ride of my life. I was going to Sarajevo, hoping to film and get some documentation for my book.  I would visit the family in Central Bosnia on the way there.  It was  also important to me, to find out what happened to my friend Suada, Hadji’s granddaughter.  When I asked about her, everyone had tense, worried faces, their heads shaking.

Don’t look for her. We haven’t seen them in years. No one knows if they are alive. You don’t know if there are mines on the road.  You won’t be welcomed. We had a war. It’s too early. You don’t understand.

I understood. The fighting and upheaval that had just ended a short two years before was still a terrifying ball of pain in everyone’s stomach.

When I arrived at the bus station in Vitez, my gentle cousin told me to ask the unprofor soldiers or the police for information if I wanted to know. I naturally shrugged this suggestion off.

Arriving at the front gate of my grandmother’s old house, from the road that leads into Sarajevo, I was greeted by my Bosnian family. The neighbors were hanging out of their windows, peering from behind doors.  Off to the side by the shed there were three people delivering wood ordered for the coming winter.

After a decent time interval I began asking about Suada, trying to find someone who would give me information.

To no avail.  I realized I was being annoying. And rude. We sat drinking coffee and rakija, exchanging pleasantries. I asked again.

Imperceptibly, a space opened and though nothing out of the ordinary happened to indicate a change, suddenly, she was right there.

My friend who I had been looking for all those years, was part of the crew delivering wood to my Auntie’s house.

Quiet, as always, going about her business with the wood, Suada spoke up only after she heard me asking about her over and over again. As we hugged and laughed, time was suspended. It was magical and surreal, not to be questioned.

We had called each other through the unseen and been brought together again.

It could not have been any other moment but that one.

Sudbina, as my grandfather would say. Kismet.

August, 1997. Central Bosnia Hercegovina
originally posted 1/16/13